Friday, July 11, 2014

20 Years Later: An Empty Seat And A Full Beer

There are certain points in your life that impacted you so much that you will always remember it as if it were yesterday.  Right off the top of my head, I know that there were three instances like that for me.  I know exactly where I was at when 9/11 happened.  Sitting in the floor at my apartment on the phone with my mom as we watched the second plane hit.  Both sides of the line remained speechless for what felt like hours.  When the Mavericks won the 2011 NBA Title, I had just finished eating buffalo chicken that I grilled at my house and I sat on the edge of my couch as time ran out on the verge of tears.  After months of playoffs when it seemed like nothing but cuss words flew out of my mouth, I sat there with an empty plate and a half full beer speechless.  The morning of July 11, 1994 is my third.

July 10, 1994

Here's the deal.  If July 11th didn't have a meaning to me, I may not remember how July 10th went down.  It was a day like just about any other.  During the summer when you are 12 years old, you have absolutely nothing on your plate.  I left the house when the sun came up and got back home when the sun went down.  No clue how or if I ever ate or had water to drink.  I stayed out practicing my Ricky Henderson hitting stance either way because THAT is what was going to set me apart from everyone else at the MLB draft.  I left the house that morning rocking my plain white t-shirt with bacon neck and jorts like I did every day because you have to have style when you are playing ball.  Be jealous.  Four of us were up at the elementary school that day playing a mixture of home run derby, country j (you shouldn't know what that is) and some sort of tennis court based baseball game that is probably just a way to hit things over a fence and I'm OK with that.  It was hot.  Hot as hell.  It was Mesquite, TX in July for God's sake.  Nonetheless, we stayed out all day.  After it got close to dark, we went to my friend Jeff's house, just up the street from mine, to play Madden.  The thing is I wasn't allowed to go into Jeff's house.  Not for any bad reason, but because cell phones weren't really a thing back then.  When someone whistled for you to come home, you came home.  That's about the depth of technology that we had.

Now that whistle could come at any moment.  We needed to go to Mervyn's to get some new jeans?  Whistle.  Running to the grocery store?  Whistle.  Getting dark and it's time to come home?  Whistle.  The latter was the whistle that I missed.  I was inside of Jeff's for way to long to the point where I missed a few whistles from my grandfather and he came up the street to get me.  It was embarrassing.  I was pissed.  My grandfather and I didn't get into too many arguments.  This was a night that we did.  I missed my whistle and it was my fault, but I felt that I had the situation under control and would come home when I damn well felt like it.  After a brief back and forth, I went to my room and played Baseball Stars on NES.  It was an awesome game.  I played the shit out of this game to where even when I blew on the cartridge and ran an alcohol dipped q-tip along the edge, it still barely worked at this point.  I sat in my room and played it while cooling down as much as I could.  My grandfather came in later that night and said, "You OK?  I'm sorry but I just don't want you somewhere that we can't get in touch with you."
"I'm going to bed.  I love you."
"Ok." was my pissy reply.

July 11, 1994

"Bill's dead."
This is what I woke up to.  My grandmother was on the phone talking to someone and I was up way earlier than I normally would be for some reason.  Just waking up, I know I heard it wrong.  Was he red?  In bed?  No.  My grandfather had passed away that night in his sleep.  When my grandmother saw that I was awake, she came into my room and told me that he had passed away in his sleep.  She went on to reassure me that he loved me very much and that he was very proud of who I was and that I meant the world to him.  I couldn't even muster up tears at that point.  I was in complete shock and believed that there had to be some misunderstanding on my end.  I sat there remembering the shitty final words that I shared with the man that meant everything to me.....speechless.

I went to my friend Matt's house while the ambulance came.  I didn't want to see it.  My mother came up to Matt's house in tears to check on me.  Now my mom hates my dad's family and this was his father.  It wrecked her as much as it did me and that speaks to who he was.  He was the kind of man that wouldn't gripe at me for leaving my bike in front of the house. He was the kind of man that would take his 69 year old, 5'10" tall frame and peddle his ass around to the garage on a bike built for someone half his size just to get a chuckle out of me.  The days following involved trips to funeral homes, numerous visits from people that wanted to console me and merely received a blank stare in return and a feeling of emptiness I have yet to feel again.  Over the next few weeks I didn't eat, barely slept and I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade under a brown blanket on the couch in the living room probably 1,300 times.

The more I thought about it, the more it didn't make sense.  I grew up with him as my father.  He was the leader of the household and the reason that I woke up in the morning.  He had been sick.  I knew that.  He had numerous back surgeries and what I can only assume was some form of cancer that was shielded from me based on questions I later asked when I was older.  I chose to spend many days during the summer in a hospital room with him rather than out with my friends.  If I didn't have to leave his side, I didn't.  And even with all of that, all I had in me to say was "Ok."  Ok?  What a 12 year old asshole.

20 years later, I know that didn't represent our relationship.  He knew that as well.  He went to sleep that night knowing what he meant to me and that I loved him.  I still do.  When I go back home, I still stop by his grave site to have a chat even for a minute or two.  I still live day to day making sure what I do makes him proud and know for damn sure there have been times I would have let him down.  And over 20 years, this day still sucks as much as it did in 1994.

To my Grandaddy.  A man that held onto a cornstalk in the middle of a Missouri field to survive a tornado that tore down buildings.  A man that took a bullet in WWII less than an inch above his heart and told his parents "don't worry, it's not as bad as they said".  A man that fended off people from other streets during a fish fry block party because they didn't live on Fulton Drive.  A man that I looked up to before I even knew why I should have and look up to more with each small detail I learn about him.  He was my idol.  My inspiration.  My world.  Today is the second day of the year (along with his birthday, June 24th) that I'll have a drink across from a lonely beer bottle still thinking that one day, somehow, he will fill that empty seat.

Cheers, Grandaddy.



Andy Hopkins said...

I've never heard that before. Touching. I'm glad you have those good memories of your grandpa.

Touching words.


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